GALENA–COVID-19 is officially in Jo Daviess County.
The inevitable occurred on Sunday as many residents received a RedAlert from emergency management stating that the Jo Daviess County Health Department has identified its first case of COVID-19.
The individual is an adult female in her 70s who recently traveled. The health department is working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and continues to monitor the individual and close contacts.
Health department officials are asking individuals to stay calm, stay apart and stay put.
“When a positive case is identified, we have to obtain a list of everyone they had been in close contact with for the 14 days prior to them developing symptoms, so those people can be contacted,” said Sandra Schleicher, Jo Daviess County public health administrator. “All of those contacts then have to stay at home in quarantine and be monitored for 14 days. Further testing will be up to a physician. In most cases, contacts will not be automatically tested. This is why staying at home to limit exposure is important. Remembering everyone you were around the last 14 days is difficult if you were not at home.”
Individuals should be mindful of those at greater risk for contracting the virus including older adults and those with underlying health conditions. Those who experience fever, cough and a shortness of breath should stay home and call a healthcare facility. With general questions about COVID-19, call the IDPH helpline at 800-839-3931.
“At this time, the IDPH is only testing people who live in congregate settings, such as a nursing home, or for people who are hospitalized with unexplained pneumonia, meaning they have been tested for other common respiratory diseases with negative results,” said Schleicher. “Physicians are able to test through private labs as well and use the recommended guidance for those labs.”
Schleicher said at this time Midwest Medical Center (MMC) has the ability to test and that FHN had drive-through testing set up last week.
“There are several ways which testing can be done, which for us is the methodology from IDPH,” said Dr. Ralph Losey, chief medical officer for Midwest Medical Center. “There have been private labs that have been approved for testing but their criteria is different from what IDPH has, those labs are primarily located on the West Coast.”
An official at Medical Associates in Galena said at this time the clinic does not have the test.
Losey said IDPH currently has two criteria for testing: the first is if someone is in a nursing home or group home where there are two documented or suspected cases and those have been the number one priority for testing. The other criteria are patients hospitalized with respiratory complaints and those that aren’t clearly explained.
“What this means is that an individual that doesn’t require hospitalization, even if they think they likely have it because of exposure or symptoms are advised to stay at home and quarantine themselves,” said Losey. “It might sound backward, but the reality is that we are still short of testing kits and we are short of swabs to obtain the specimen.”
According to Tracy Bauer, MMC CEO, the hospital initially had only four test kits, but they have increased their number of kits to 90.
MMC has also set up a hotline that is staffed from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. After that, people can call their main line after hours.
“We are trying our best to keep people at home,” said Bauer. “That has been what we continue to hear is the best method, instead of having people come in to be tested. Treatment doesn’t change whether you have been tested or not, self-quarantine for 14 days. We are advising those people to stay at home, rather than overload the healthcare system.”
Losey said after self-quarantine and five days after symptoms resolve, an individual should be able to go about business.
Schleicher emphasized individuals are not able to show up and get tested. Call first to be screened and set up an appointment.
“The majority of people are going to have symptoms which they will recover from,” said Losey. “Any testing procedure exposes healthcare workers to possible exposure to the virus, which we are trying to avoid as much as possible. We are certainly committed to caring for people who need care, but the reality is that we have a limited number of healthcare workers and we don’t want them taken out of action, especially for someone who doesn’t need hospital care.”
The county joins a list of 30 counties in Illinois, as of March 22 that have at least one case of COVID-19. As of Sunday, IDPH reported a total of 1,049 cases and nine deaths, with ages ranging from younger than 1 to 99.
“I think there is no doubt in my mind that the virus is in our community,” said Losey. ”People are probably walking around with it and they aren’t aware of it. Anyone who has had contact with us for possible symptoms has been advised to self-quarantine and they are being followed up on to make sure that is really happening.”
Losey said that self-quarantine is the most important measure an individual can take.
“If you want to be absolutely safe, you should assume that everyone you come into contact with has the virus, because there has been a general rule of thumb that for every documented case there is probably 50 others in the community that have not been identified or documented yet,” said Losey. “I think that applies to us. I think there are likely multiple cases in Jo Daviess County today that have not yet been identified, and some might never be identified.”
MMC has made changes to services, closing the fitness center as of March 20. Officials advised only urgent care appointments should be handled at the clinics in Galena and Elizabeth. They are also working on ways in which telehealth can be provided to the community.
“We have downscaled our services that we are offering,” said Bauer. “Most importantly, our emergency room is still open and we do have providers available to take care of urgent patients.”
MMC has put together a COVID-19 response team of staff members to respond if there is a surge of patients. The hospital has cancelled all elective surgeries. The operating room is the area that could be converted to a COVID-19 patient recovery area, if there is a surge in cases.
Officials suspect the hospital could double its capacity on a short notice.
“We have instituted new triage protocols for patients going to the emergency department,” said Losey. “There will be someone at the vestibule of the hospital to check symptoms and those that have symptoms will be transferred to the walk door of the ambulance garage where we have a respiratory assessment center set up there. Depending on severity of symptoms they may be evaluated and sent home from that location and not come in to the emergency department at all.”
“Shelter in place has to be the message,” said Bauer. “You have to stay home and do not expose anybody that you don’t have to. If we are going to flatten the curve in this county, you have to stay home.”
Losey said individuals need to be efficient at the grocery store and try not to go more than once a week.
“Take your wipes and wipe down the cart, don’t get within six feet of anyone else, even in the checkout line or in the aisles,” said Losey. “Right now that is the only way we have in fighting the virus. There should be one person grocery shopping, not everybody.”